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Haitians Are Crossing From The U.S. To Canada

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You can add Canada to the list of countries who are dealing with a migrant crisis. This month alone, over 4,000 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada from the United States. These are numbers large enough that Canadian authorities are being forced to set up refugee camps. These are mostly Haitians who have to leave the United States because their temporary protection granted after the 2010 earthquake is about to run out and they don't want to go back to Haiti.

Ainslie MacLellan has been following this story. She's a journalist with the CBC and joins us from Montreal. Good morning.

AINSLIE MACLELLAN: Good morning.

GREENE: Tell us just the scene here. I mean, this has caused a stadium in Montreal to become basically a refugee center, is that right?

MACLELLAN: Yeah, about 700 people have been set up, at the peak of it anyways, in the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. And they've set up sort of cots on the concourse, in the hallway. They also used an old hospital building that was sitting empty to house asylum seekers. And then we also have the situation at the border itself where two weeks ago, the Canadian Armed Forces were called in to set up about 25 large army tents. You have people who are sleeping on cots in those tents as well.

That's where they're being housed when they come over the border while they're waiting for border agents to do their security screening to let them through. So it's been a huge number compared to anything that Canada has seen before. We were seeing, at one point, 250 people crossing a day. This week, though, there's some indication that that has dropped somewhat. The federal government says it's more like 140 a day.

GREENE: And these crossings are illegal, we should make clear. Is that right?

MACLELLAN: That's right. People mostly are coming up to this rural road called Roxham Road that - one of these many roads that runs right up to the border. And they are crossing between border points because - because of an agreement between Canada and the U.S., they're not allowed to claim asylum at an official border point. If they came to an official border crossing, they would be turned away back to the U.S.

But because of a loophole, I guess, or a particularity of that law, if your feet make it onto Canadian soil and you claim asylum, then you can't be charged for crossing the border illegally until the government has looked at your claim and decided whether or not it's legitimate.

GREENE: Oh, that's interesting. But there are a lot of rumors that Canada will just welcome Haitians and Haitians who arrive and get their feet on the ground will just be able to stay there. It's not that simple, right?

MACLELLAN: It's not. And that's a message that the government has been trying to get out. Around the time that Haitians were getting these letters from the Department of Homeland Security that their temporary protected status was going to be ending in January, you started seeing these messages going around the Haitian community on the WhatsApp app telling people, come to Canada. Canada will even pay for you to immigrate here.

And so there's been sort of an effort by the government here and even some representatives in the U.S. to counter that message, to tell people you're not guaranteed to get refugee status. If you come here, you have to go through the long process. But that message is getting out there slowly right now.

GREENE: Speaking to Ainslie MacLellan. She's a journalist with the CBC in Montreal. Ainslie, thanks a lot. We appreciate your time this morning.

MACLELLAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.